The Design Structure Matrix

Complexity is an ever-present obstacle in any business. Managing complex systems is therefore a core competency to successfully run any business.

The Design Structure Matrix (DSM) is a simple tool to perform both the analysis and the management of complex systems. It enables the user to model, visualize, and analyze the dependencies among the entities of any system and derive suggestions for the improvement or synthesis of a system.

Such a system can be for example a product architecture or an engineering design process; also e.g. the organization of an enterprise or a market can take shape as a complex system and often merit a closer look into their structure.

The Design Structure Matrix (DSM) is also known as:

  • The Dependency Structure Matrix
  • The Problem Solving Matrix (PSM)
  • Design Precedence Matrix

As a tool for system analysis, DSM provides a compact and clear representation of a complex system and a capture method for the interactions/interdependencies/ interfaces between system elements (i.e. sub-systems and modules).

As a management tool, DSM is most commonly applied in project management, and it provides a project representation that allows for feedback and cyclic task dependencies. This is extremely important since most engineering applications exhibit such a cyclic property. As such, this representation often results in an improved and more realistic execution schedule for the corresponding design activities.